On 30th March 2018, amendments to alcohol licensing laws requiring consideration of disabled access to premises came into effect. Remarkably this was as a result of the Scottish Government bringing into force a provision of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010!! So what does it mean for licensees?
It is now a legal requirement that any applicant for a premises licence for the sale of alcohol in Scotland requires to be accompanied by a “disabled access and facilities” statement. The form of statement sets out three short and rather basic “Yes/No” questions:
- Is there disabled access to the premises?
- Do you have facilities for those with a disability?
- Do you have any other provisions available to aid the use of the premises by disabled people?
There is scope for the applicant to provide further detail on a “yes” answer to any of these questions. So far, so good. In most cases this will allow experienced operators / proposed operators to provide evidence of the various steps that they propose to take to assist disabled persons who wish to use the premises. Whilst this is undoubtedly a move in a positive direction, there is a major flaw in the licensing provisions.
The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 (as now amended) does not allow a premises licence application to be refused on the grounds that the applicant has failed to provide a statement on disabled access and facilities. The application without the statement would simply be “incomplete” until the statement is provided.
The Licensing Board cannot compel a proposed operator to provide disabled access or facilities to any particular standard. Instead the legal duties on a proposed premises licence holder rest with compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and wider obligations to make “reasonable adjustment” to premises where possible.
The role of the licensing board is then to determine a premises licence application is the usual way. Whilst it is accepted that not all premises can be adapted to provide disabled access and facilities, one wonders what the point of requiring the applicant for a licence to produce this statement is when it does not have any legal effect.
To compound matters, where a premises licence is granted after the disabled access and facilities statements rules are in force, the statement itself does not form part of the premises licence. Therefore if the premises are altered or the style of operation change, such that the disabled access and facilities are adjusted or removed, there is no obligation on the licence holder to tell the licensing board or seek permission!
Whilst the intention behind the production of these statements is ultimately well intended it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the legal requirements miss the mark.
It should either be a requirement of the premises licence or not, and the licensing board should either have a duty to assess its merits or not have to consider it at all. At present, we have an additional obligation on a licence applicant with no obvious purpose. Put another way, a weak measure.